I am not sure if the title is clear enough to you, so let me briefly explain what I'm looking for.

We sometimes see children who look very much like their father or mother, or even behave typically like either of them. I don't know if there is a formal or literary phrase to express this occurrence. But I wish to know some colloquial phrases which are used to convey the idea that I am talking about.

Please bear with me if this topic sounds too mundane to you, and help me learn.


For example, is it correct to say 'he has gone on his father?' This phrase, which I think is an effect of language transfer from Hindi, can be often heard in some parts of India

  • 'inheriting' or 'inheritance'.
    – Mitch
    Jan 13 '13 at 4:35
  • Heredity (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heredity)
    – Kris
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:37
  • The use of "acquiring" is just wrong. Inherited and acquired characteristics are distinct and considered 'opposites'.
    – Kris
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:38
  • @Kris: I understand what you are saying. My using acquiring here may be wrong. But can I say 'he inherited his nose from his father' to mean 'his nose is quite similar to that of his father'?
    – user32480
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:43
  • 2
    You probably say he takes after his father. americanidioms.net/take-after-%28someone%29
    – Kris
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:57

As Bill Franke has said, inheriting applies to the acquisition of traits. However, I think the idiom that best fits your translation of 'he has gone on his father' would actually be:

He takes after his father.

Or in the case of a nose or other distinguishing feature:

He has his father's nose.

  • Oh, should have read this before posting my comment. +1 all the same!
    – Kris
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:59

Children inherit physical features from their parents: it's genetic and teleological. They may also inherit some personality characteristics from their parents, e.g., proneness to depression. They probably acquire behavioral characteristics, e.g., solving personal problems by getting angry, shouting, or beating someone else up.

We have some expressions (idioms) that deal with this, e.g., "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree", "like father, like son", and probably a host of others that are so cliched it doesn't pay to use them. But others may know some more interesting expressions.

  • "the nut doesn't fall far from the tree"
    – Mitch
    Jan 13 '13 at 5:39
  • "The apple/nut doesn't fall far from the tree" is not a British idiom. This is the first I've heard of it. In fact if someone remarked that, I wouldn't know what it meant.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 13 '13 at 9:36
  • 3
    @Andrew: The "apple" expression is often used disparagingly here in the U.S., like when the son of a convicted criminal gets into trouble with the law, or the daughter of an alcoholic develops a drinking problem. It's another way of saying "Well, that doesn't surprise me." I don't usually hear that expression when, say, the daughter of a chemist earns her PhD from Stanford.
    – J.R.
    Jan 13 '13 at 11:54
  • 1
    I've certainly heard it in Britain and Ireland, as well as from US sources. As I mentioned in my own answer, in the 19th C it was often stated as a non-English proverb, but with disagreements about where it came from.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 13 '13 at 12:32

"He takes after his mother"

"He's a chip off the old block" ("Chip of the same block" is at least 17th C British, but "off" is more common now).

"The apple doesn't fall far from the tree". (Sometimes "nut"). Some 19th Century uses of this claim it as an import though disagree as to whether it's Icelandic, German, Russian or from elsewhere. One 19th C English-Welsh dictionary includes it though whether that means it was a common idiom in Welsh, or a common idiom in British English, or both is impossible to say from this alone. These days it would be known pretty much anywhere.

"He didn't lick it off a stone" ("... off the ground", "... off the street"). Referring to a particular quality already stated. I understand this is very Irish, but maybe some from elsewhere would say they've heard it outside of Ireland.

"Like father, like son". Straight forward comparison.


I think all the answers given so far are useful, but I'd like to comment on your question:

We sometimes see children who look very much like their father or mother, or even behave typically like either of them.

I'm not sure how well English expressions cover both of those circumstances. There are hereditary traits (which would include physical characteristics, such as hair and eye color, skin tone, and even whether or not you might be genetically predisposed to certain diseases, such as diabetes) and then there are behavioral traits (which might involve work ethic, values, and religion).

In other words, there are two ways to pass on something from generation to generation: through genetics, or through learned or emulated behavior.

As I mentioned in my comment to Andrew, there's the idiom the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, but I usually hear that in a negative context when it relates to behavioral traits, or else neutral contexts when it's applied to physical characteristics:

"I heard Imelda went into rehab again."
"Not surprising; apple doesn't fall too far from the tree."

On the other hand, chip off the old block can be used more positively:

"After getting his meteorology degree last June, Greg landed a great job with NOAA."
"Wow, he's a chip off the old block!"

If I overheard those two conversations, I'd assume that at least one of Imelda's parents had dealt with substance abuse problems, and that Greg's dad had some kind of technical degree, and was involved in atmospheric research or something similar. (Incidentally, the fact that I mentioned Greg's father, as opposed to his mother, doesn't reveal a sexist assumption, as if I'd be surprised by a woman scientist. Rather, it's an assumption based on the idiom used; that particular idiom is usually reserved for father-son characteristics. I'm not entirely sure about this, but I believe that particular idiom and the relatively common nickname of "Chip" for a young boy are related.)

However, if we were discussing skin and eye color, or a certain shape of nose, I'd be more likely to simply call these hereditary traits, or say something like "that's passed down genetically." Of course, this all depends on context, too. I'd be much more careful about how I used words like genetic and hereditary in a journal than I would be in casual conversation. Sometimes words like these are less interchangeable when used within the scientific community, as opposed to the general population.

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